This is My Family ... And Your

Hi Rony,
Here is some information about the photo, Starting on the left side of the bottom row:

Ella Joan Swartz, changed to Ella Zonis
I don't know how much you know about her. She was born in 1936 and was 6 years older than Alma. Her name was originally Ella Joan Swartz, changed to Ella Zonis when she married my father. After they were divorced, she legally changed her name. She chose "Mahler" after the composer. My understanding is that both had a very difficult relationship with their parents and didn't want to continue to carry the Swartz name. While Alma rebelled against her parents' strict controls my mother sought to be a "good girl." She worked extremely hard in school and excelled academically. She graduated from Wellesley and got a Phd in musicology from Brandeis. She married my father, someone who grew up in the same community, who was Jewish, and who was accepted by her parents. Unfortunately through it all she was extremely unhappy just like, to my understanding, Alma was. Sadly neither of them seemed to break free from what seems to have been a very unhappy home. When my mother was 33 she had a stroke and has struggled with the consequences ever since. Shortly thereafter Eddy died and my parents were divorced. My mother was devastated by these three blows and became an alcoholic. She drank steadily for about 10 years before joining Alcoholics Anonymous. This year she is celebrating her 30th anniversary of sobriety. My mother was an ethnomusicologist and worked as a professor at various institutions including the University of Chicago and MIT. She  was unable to get a tenure track job and struggled with underemployment for several years before deciding to go back to school. She got a masters degree from Harvard Divinity School in her early fifties. Like Alma, she was a spiritual seeker. She worked as a hospital chaplain and also started a retreat for women at our summer home in Maine. Also like Alma, she seemed to have an impulse to bring people together in a healing environment. My mother is now 76, in fairly good health given her age and medical history. 

Our Great Aunt Rosalyn, Eddie's sister.
Alma probably told you about her, as they were quite close. We were also the closest to her of all the Swartz siblings. Roz was the youngest. She moved to Los Angeles at an early age and worked in public health. She got married but did not have kids, and that marriage ended in divorce. In her fifties she took a cruise on the canals of France and met a British widower, Cyril Hewertson. They feel in love and got married and she moved to London. She worked in the city and they lived in a suburb called Saunderstead. Cyril was retired. Roz always new how to make a lovely home and they lived in a sweet little cottage. Like many in the Swartz family including Alma, my mother, and myself, she loved dogs and had a series of small dogs who slept in a basket on the stairs. Roz and Cyril were married about 15 years I think, and then he died. Roz had never felt 100% comfortable in England--she felt the people were not particularly friendly. So after her husband's death she moved back to California, to La Jolla. There too she had a charming home, this time an apartment surrounded by a lovely flower garden. She was retired at this point but had an active social life and a serious boy friend. She died of cancer about 10 years ago. Alma traveled from Poland to care for her when she was dying. Roz was a lively, warm person. She was very bright and very social. She seems to have escaped a dark quality which haunts many in the family.

Next to her is her sister Edith, called Eta. I did not even know she existed till I was about 30. There was some conflict in the family, especially between her and Roz, and she was never mentioned. I have only met her once, when my sister and I were in Florida, where she lived. I don't know anything about her except she had two children, a boy and a girl. Eta died recently

The older lady is the Swartz matriarch--Jenny (?). I'm not sure who the little girl is, though Ellen could tell you.

Next is Bess, Ellen's mother, who was married to Morris Swartz. Bess was a high school friend of Roz's and she was a really sweet and smart woman. When my sister got married she had a party in Boston for all of our relatives on our father's side. Bess was the only person from our mother's side who attended. She was a lovely person as you can tell from her kids Michael and Ellen who live in Chicago and are very close with my sister. She died about 5 years ago.

Next to her is our Grandmother, Lena. Though both Alma and Ella had a difficult relationship with Lena, she was wonderful to my sister and I. She was a truly nurturing presence in our lives and helped us both get through very difficult circumstances including my mother's illness. We both adored her and were very sorry to lose her when she died in the early 1990s. She was a very smart, high energy woman who definitely suffered a great deal because of the sexism of the period. She was someone who would have been much happier with an education and a career. She also came from an extremely poor home and was never able to go beyond high school, which she regretted her whole life. Her frustrated ambition probably contributed to how unhappy their home was. I know she was very angry that Alma never went to college because she herself regretted that she could not go to college. As I understand it Eddie and Lena had a very unhappy marriage. He was an extremely difficult person--it's pretty much universally agreed. They divorced in about 1953. She went on to marry a man named Sydney Zion. A decent, quiet man whom we called Papa Sid. He was shy and retiring and we never really got to know him, though they were married before we were born. He died a couple of years before she did. My grandmother kept a beautiful home and, like Alma, was very skilled at the "womanly arts"--gardening and cooking in particular. She was a very skiled knitter.

Next to her is Alma, and Eddie is standing behind her. Eddie died when I was six and I did not know him well, but he was a loving grandpa who liked to spoil me and buy me toys. He had the Swartz animal-loving trait and bought me a turtle, a parakeet, and, one summer when he visited us in Maine, a baby goat. Not a very practical gift as we were returning to Chicago in the fall, but as you can imagine I was thrilled. Eddie came from a poor immigrant family, as Lena did. He was a very ambitious and talented man, but basically not a good person, though I don't really know the details. Stubborn, angry, and clearly made Alma and Ella and Lena miserable. He also had a drinking problem. He died of stomach cancer in 1972.

--I don't know who the  young man next to him is. 

The woman in the middle in the back is Edith, Robert Swartz' wife. She is still alive. I really know nothing about her, except that she had an identical (?) twin sister. She and Robert have two sons. One I believe has struggled with serious mental illness and is estranged from the family. The other is Gordon Swartz who lives in Belgium and has two sons.

--I don't know who the guy next to her is.

Next to him is Robert Swartz, the youngest brother, known as "Babe," who is still alive and in good shape for someone in his late 90s. He divides his time between the Boston area and Florida.

Next to him is Morris Swartz, the eldest brother, who became a doctor. He was married to Bess and the father of Ellen and Michael. By all accounts a nicer person than his brothers, though he died when I was a young child and I didn't really know him.

I hope this is helpful--I know Ellen is familiar with this picture and she could tell you a lot more. In fact I am going to cc her on this email and maybe she can fill in some of the blanks and respond to both of us, as I am curious too! Maybe Ellen knows the occasion of the photo?

Please feel free to ask me any questions you like and send me other photos. Your project is very interesting to me and I am happy to contribute in any way I can.

Nadia Zonis